Portsmouth 2 Sunderland 1: Portsmouth hit the wall in marathon, then discover a hole in it

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The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp stood by the 18-mile mark of the London Marathon yesterday, scanning the straining faces. As he waited for his eldest son, Matthew, to trudge past, he must have found it highly tempting to borrow that old line fromLife Of Brian and scream, "You lucky, lucky bastards".

If the runners thought their journey was tortuous, they should try pounding the hard yards of a relegation race. Harry has on countless occasions and it does not get any easier. Not even when a side that was eight points adrift six weeks ago is as tantalisingly close to safety as Portsmouth are.

For within a couple of points of salvation they may be, but on Saturday damnation looked all too probable as Sunderland - yes, Sunderland, the team just about to record the lowest points haul ever in the Premiership - were one-up with just over 15 minutes to go. "I could see all our hard work over the last few weeks slipping away," Redknapp said. "Boy, we're relieved." But not at all ashamed.

Redknapp has been around long enough to realise that every great escape needs a bit of a luck - a hole in a fence here, a dozing guard there. And at Fratton Park, Kevin Kyle lent a hand so helping that nobody, not even the old dog himself, could quite believe it. "Odd," was Redknapp's astute summing-up of the palm that inexplicably rose to meet ball in the 88th minute to give Matthew Taylor the chance to capture all three precious points from the penalty spot. "I will remember that moment till the day I die," said Taylor. Kyle will, too.

As might the rest of the South Coast should Portsmouth do enough away to Wigan next weekend and then at home to Liverpool to consolidate the two-point advantage they enjoy over Birmingham and so complete a turnaround stunning in its nerve and consistency. True, the home side were more than slightly fortunate to prevail here, after Tommy Miller's breakaway goal had sent them tap dancing on the panic button, but without the creative force of the injured Pedro Mendes they were always going to struggle.

"People were going on about this being a doddle and how much we were going to improve our goal difference by - what a load or rubbish," Redknapp said. "We were without a few key players and I knew it would be tough. But we came through it and with 17 points out of a possible 24 that is top three form."

Perversely, it could still yet be bottom-three form, should those such as Andres D'Alessandro decide to have any more stinkers as wretched as this one. As well as Mendes back in harness, Redknapp will be praying for Lomana LuaLua's fitness for the final push.

This error-strewn 90 minutes suggested that Benjani Mwaruwari would only be adding to his 18 hours without a goal and even if Svetoslav Todorov's neat turn and equalising shot signified a talent, the directness Lualua brings may just prove priceless. "Head down, keep going," said Redknapp, ignoring another pain barrier.

Goals: Miller (70) 0-1; Todorov (73) 1-1; Taylor pen (88) 2-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Priske, Primus, Stefanovic, Taylor; O'Neil, S Davis, Hughes (Routledge, 76), D'Alessandro (Diao, 88); Todorov (Pamarot, 90), Benjani. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Karadas.

Sunderland (4-4-2): K Davis; Hoyte, Breen, Danny Collins, McCartney; Brown, Miller, Whitehead, Arca; Stead (Nosworthy, 45), Kyle. Substitutes not used: Joe Murphy, Caldwell, Woods, Leadbitter.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Portsmouth Stefanovic, Hughes; Sunderland Brown, Breen, Kyle.

Man of the match: Taylor.

Attendance: 20,078.